Hurt by Hardscrabble Farmer – The Burning Platform
About a year after we moved here my oldest son and I built a tree house in one of the big maples in the front yard. It was a giant, healthy tree that has stood in that spot for a good 200 years or more and it was shaped almost perfectly for the platform; four massive leaders spreading out like a human hand held palm up, fingers bent at ninety degree a angle. It was the first maple I’d ever tapped, On a warm, late Winter day in 2009 I’d drilled a single hole in the rough gray bark, tapped in one of the antique spiles that came with the farm, and I hung an old galvanized bucket from a hook and watched as the first drops of sap fell.
That night I boiled the very first few ounces of pure maple syrup on the kitchen stove and I can still remember the flavor when I tasted it, dulcet, incomparable. The kids used the tree house off and on for childish purposes, in a kind of developmental progression, from our eldest son, to our daughter, to our youngest son, and all of their friends that came along with them. It gave you a very nice view of the barnyard, the big paddock and the out buildings, the sugar house and the hog pens. When it was full Summer and the tree was loaded with green leaves in was like a breezy, living cave up in it, always cooler by ten degrees than it was anywhere else.
It wasn’t fancy but it was a nice spot in a lovely tree and it offered the kids a place to go and be alone if they wanted and whenever kids who visited the farm they were drawn to it like a magnet. Once I’d finished building it I never gave it much thought, but whenever I heard the sound of children’s laughter through the foliage I was reminded of what a great investment of time I’d made in building it.
When the barn burned down in seven years ago the heat produced by the fire killed every tree that stood within fifty feet of the conflagration. Most of them we cut down and split for firewood and a couple of the much bigger ones we gave a chance to recover. The tree house maple took a hit, at least a third of it dying out the first year. I trimmed it severely, removing the dead wood so nothing would fall on its own, and for the first couple of years it seemed to make a comeback, fresh shoots emerging from where I’d cut it back.
It was terribly lopsided but other than that it appeared to regain some of it’s vitality. Three years ago the sap barley trickled out and what little we collected in the bucket was discolored and we’d throw it out on the snow. Last year the first mushrooms began to grow on the big leaders and only half the tree leafed out by the end of May, and most of what emerged green slowly turned over the warm months until it was completely bare by early fall.